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Medha Patkar on strike, critical
Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi | April 03, 2006 19:10 IST
Medha Patkar, the Narmada Bachao Andolan leader, is in a critical condition.
She and two of her NBA colleagues are on indefinite hunger strike outside Jantar Mantar in New Delhi to protest destruction of lives and livelihoods in the Narmada valley since March 29. Although the fast is in its sixth day it has not been able to move the central government.
Patkar's blood pressure has been unstable for the last three days but the United Progressive Alliance government has ignored their agitation and her deteriorating health.
Rozario Clifton, an NBA associate, told rediff.com, "Medha is critically unwell. All of us are waiting for the government's response. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had promised us that he will respond to our demands but so far we haven't heard anything from him."
On March 8, the Narmada Control Authority gave clearance for the height of the Sardar Sarovar Dam to be raised from 110.64 metres to 121.92 metres.
Since March 17, adivasis and farmers of the Narmada Valley have been sitting on a peaceful dharna in Delhi because they think 'this clearance, given on the basis of untrue reports and false claims of the government, will cause the destruction of the homes, fields and lives in about 220 villages in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. This decision is not just a blatant violation of Supreme Court orders, but makes a mockery of the human rights of lakhs of people still living in the submergence area.'
Clifton said, "By sitting on dharna we are asking the government to tell us if they want to follow the rule of the land or not."
As per the law, all the concerned state governments are required to ensure that every single affected family is resettled at least six months before submergence, offering equivalent cultivable land and resettling them sites provided with all civic amenities. But the activists allege that Maharashtra government is fudging with figures and the MP government too is not following proper procedures.
Jamsing Nargave from village Amlali in Badwani district (MP), Bhagwatibai Jatpuria from village Nissarpur in Dhar district (MP) and Medha Patkar are on hunger strike on the footpath opposite Jantar Mantar. This is where people seeking justice from the central government come to protest from all over India.
There is not even a decent bathroom available to the activists. Activists who have come from different parts of Narmada valley are using facilities in a nearby Gurudwara.
Nargave, who is showing weakness due to six days of fasting, told rediff.com, "Who cares for us? Why don't people listen to us? We want the government to hear our plea and give us justice."
Due to the Sardar Sarovar dam, 19 villages are to be submerged from Gujarat, 33 in Maharashtra, (these are 100 per cent tribal) and 193 in MP. The number of people ousted is 2 to 2.5 lakhs, according to figures available in Parliament.
Jatpuria says, "I am fasting because this monsoon 32 acres of my land will be submerged. We have not been offered any land in lieu of it. Our tragedy is that not a single survey is done in our area by Madhya Pradesh government."
Raiji Deva, a farmer from Gadher village, which was submerged almost a decade back, told rediff.com, "I had accepted the relief and rehabilitation package offered by Gujarat government but we were cheated because I was not given as much land as promised."
Although Deva's village is submerged his family's decades old cultivation on slopes of Vinadhyas have survived, he claims.He says that is being encroached on by outsiders.
He adds, "When we went back to claim our own land, the police drove us out."
Gujarat government's official P K Laheri claimed recently that around Rs 2,000 crore has been spent on rehabilitation of displaced persons and no other state offered as much as the Gujarat government is offering.
But on the footpath of Jantar Mantar there are scores of displaced persons who claim that the Centre and state governments' claims are bogus.
Clifton says, "Out of 177 villages that are going to submerged in MP, 40 villages have not even been taken into account. What do you do then?"
It is significant to note that NBA is not emphasising the issue of big dams right now. NBA is fiercely opposed to the concept of big dams as an agent for development. But now, they have understood the gravity of the situation and are asking for reasonable rehabilitation.
Their leaders from villages narrate innumerable incidents where corruption, government's apathy and bureaucratic insensitivity have wreaked havoc in villagers' lives.An activist of NBA said, "The government is denying justice to more than 40,000 people. There are no TV cameras and no media attention on us because this is a real issue of the developing India."